The tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinases-3 (TIMP3) is a multifunctional protein tightly associated with the extracellular matrix (ECM). A specific type of mutation in TIMP3 which results in potentially unpaired cysteine residues at the C-terminus of the protein has been shown to cause Sorsby fundus dystrophy (SFD), an autosomal dominant retinopathy of late onset. An early finding in SFD is a striking accumulation of protein and lipid material in Bruch's membrane, a multilayered ECM structure located between the choroid and the RPE. To study the molecular mechanisms underlying SFD pathology, we recently generated two mouse lines, one deficient in Timp3 (Timp3(-/-)) and one carryin an SFD-related mutation in the orthologous murine Timp3 gene (Timp3(S156C/S156C)) We now established immortalized fibroblast cells from the mutant mouse strains and provide evidence that the various cell lines display distinct morphological and physiological features that are dependent on the mutational status of the Timp3 protein in the secreted ECM. We show that matrix metalloproteinase (MMP) activity and inhibitory properties of Timp3 are not affected by the SFID-associated mutation. We further demonstrate that Tirnp3(5156C) protein accumulates in the ECM of the mutant fibroblast cells and that this accumulation is not due to a prolonged turnover rate of mutant vs. normal Timp3. We also show that the relative abundance of mutant and normal Timp3 in the ECM has no measurable effects on cellular phenotypes. Together, these findings suggest (i) a functional role of normal Timp3 in pathways determining cellular morphology and 00 a loss of this particular function as a consequence of the Ser156Cys mutation. We therefore hypothesize that SFD pathogenesis is due to a loss-of-function mutation in TIMP3. (C) 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.